Jack Ma

Immediately after Jack Ma visited Kenya and other African countries in 2017, he set up a funding programming meant to empower African entrepreneurs who are building a more sustainable and inclusive economy for the future.

In 2018, Jack Ma Foundation identified Kenya’s Nailab as the incubator to run the Kshs 1 billion fund. Immediately the fund was up and running, the foundation called on entrepreneurs across Africa to apply for the funding, and through stages of judgement, 10 finalists were finally announced last night in Accra Ghana – but sadly, no Kenyan entrepreneur made it to top ten list. What’s worrying me is that of those who made it to top ten, 4 are Nigerians, 2 are Egyptians, and 2 others are Rwandese. The remaining 2 slots went to Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire.

The question I am now asking myself is, “how bad were Kenyan entrepreneurial ideas?” This I ask because Kenya has been known to chan out some of the best startup ideas in Africa, most of them winning International awards. Just two months ago, a Kenyan Startup Tiny Totos won in the Africa regional finale of the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC). In August, Tech4Impact was announced as the winner of Africa’s Notable Startup Pitch Event. And the list may go on and on and on.

Were the winnings a bias from the judges who included Jack Ma, Founder of Alibaba Group and the Jack Ma Foundation; Strive Masiyiwa, Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet Group; Ibukun Awosika, Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria and Founder/CEO of The Chair Centre Group; and Joe Tsai, Executive Vice Chairman of Alibaba? It should be noted that in the judging panel there wasn’t any Kenyan. It should be noted that even the semi-finalist judges there wasn’t any Kenyan in the panel.

Or are Kenyans missing from the top ten list because Jack Ma did not receive maximum cooperation from the Kenyan government when he visited the country in 2017? According to Dr Mukhisa Kituyi who is the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and organized for Jack Ma’s visit to Kenya, Jack Ma snubbed Kenya for Rwanda due to Kenya’s lackluster approach in following up with meetings. “July, two years ago, I brought Jack Ma and 16 Chinese billionaires to Nairobi. We had a lecture in University of Nairobi and had a meeting with business community at Kempiski. We visited Nailab and State House and then I took them to Kigali,” Dr Kituyi said.

But “President Kagame followed up the meeting, he requested for concrete meetings on what to do and last year, Alibaba rolled out the first world electronic trading platform for agricultural produce to be rolled out in Africa in Kigali. The price of coffee from Rwanda more than doubled in the first three weeks and since then, sales have gone up more than 40 per cent,” said Dr Kituyi.

According Kituyi, Rwanda saw an opportunity and seized it and aligned resources with the opportunity while its leadership walked the talk.

Or it could be that Kenyans just presented mediocre businesses ideas to the foundation. In any case, let us go back to the list of those who finally won the heart of Jack Ma and the judges. And the winners are:

The top three finalists were:

  • Temie Giwa-Tubosun, founder and CEO, LifeBank (Nigeria) – First Place, winning $250,000
  • Dr. Omar Sakr, founder and CEO, Nawah-Scientific (Egypt) – Second Place, winning $150,000
  • Christelle Kwizera, founder, Water Access Rwanda (Rwanda) – Third Place, winning $100,000

“It was an incredible honor to be named Africa’s Business Hero. I was truly inspired by my fellow winners at today’s Netpreneur Summit. The Africa Netpreneur Prize will give me the resources to grow LifeBank and expand our presence in Nigeria and throughout the rest of Africa. I look forward to continuing my journey to solve problems and make a significant impact on the future of Africa,” said Temie Giwa-Tubosun, Founder and CEO of LifeBank.

The remaining finalists, who each received $65,000, are listed below:

  • Waleed Abd El Rahman, CEO, Mumm (Egypt)
  • Ayodeji Arikawe, co-founder, Thrive Agric (Nigeria)
  • Mahmud Johnson, founder and CEO, J-Palm (Liberia)
  • Kevine Kagirimpundu, co-founder and CEO, UZURI K&Y (Rwanda)
  • Dr. Tosan J. Mogbeyiteren, founder, Black Swan (Nigeria)
  • Chibuzo Opara, co-founder, DrugStoc (Nigeria)
  • Moulaye Taboure, co-founder and CEO, Afrikrea (Cote D’Ivoire)

“The finalists who competed in ‘Africa’s Business Heroes’ should be an inspiration for Africa and for the world. Each of these entrepreneurs looked at big challenges facing their communities, and saw them as opportunities,” said Jack Ma, Founder of the Alibaba Group and Jack Ma Foundation. “It is my strong belief that entrepreneur heroes, like these finalists, will change the world – creating companies that drive inclusive growth and opportunity for the continent. Everyone is a winner tonight.”

“This competition demonstrates the overwhelming entrepreneurial talent that exists across Africa. I’m very excited about the future of industry and entrepreneurship for this continent,” said Strive Masiyiwa, Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet Group. “The top 10 truly show the limitless potential of African business.”

“What really struck me about the finalists was that they each addressed specific African problems with a specific African solution in a fresh way, leveraging technology that wasn’t available previously,” said Ibukun Awosika, Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria and Founder/CEO of The Chair Centre Group. “If this is an indication of the future of entrepreneurship on the continent, then Africa’s future looks bright.”

“Africa’s Business Heroes” will be televised in a two-hour special throughout Africa. The journeys of the finalists as well as their pitches and business insights from the judges will all be included in this exciting television event.

You can watch “Africa’s Business Heroes” on the following dates and channels:

  • December 13, 2019 – ROK 3 on DSTV
  • December 14, 2019 – NOVELA and Sports Focus on StarTimes

Check your local listings for specific channel and airing times.

The initiative will host a pitch competition where 10 finalists from across the continent will compete for $1 million in total prize money every year through 2028. All entrepreneurs across Africa, are encouraged to apply. Entries for next year’s prize will open in the first half of 2020.


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